Monday, 5 December 2011

Our Lady of Light and the Apocalyptic Nativity

During the season of Advent, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect some more on the significance of the apparitions of Our Lady in Egypt (affectionately known to believers as Our Lady of Light), and their remarkable paralells to the vision of the Woman adorned with the Sun described in the Book of Revelation. Despite being witnessed on an unprecedented scale by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individuals, these apparitions have been widely overlooked by the Western media, and indeed by many Catholics. The apparitions of Our Lady of Light, which have occurred from April 1968 to the present (the most recent of which being in October 2011 - see my earlier post Our Lady Appears in Egypt Again) are the only known precedent of the category of visions known in Catholic theology as visio sensibilis (an actual physical manifestation) to be witnessed on such an extraordinary scale. (You can find many excellent articles detailing these apparitions at the Zeitoun website, Miracle Hunter, and Medjugorje USA, amongst others).
The only other Marian apparition witnessed on a comparable scale is that of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, which again is to be differentiated from those of Our Lady of Light in the fact that the Virgin  Mary could only be seen by the three shepherd children. Instead of receiving visions of Our Lady, the crowds at Fatima witnessed the Sun spinning and dancing in the sky at the Cova de Iria .The Miracle of the Sun itself may have been a combination of unusual weather phenomena with the visio imaginativa class of vision (which whilst fully visible to the seer, these apparitions are perceived only through the mind's eye), since there was a small minority of people who could not see what the rest of the crowd were experiencing.  We must also keep in mind that the numbers of those who have witnessed the apparitions of Our Lady of Light far outweigh the estimated 70,000 people present during the Miracle of the Sun.
Despite being officially recognised as authentic by the local Cardinal Patriarch, the fact that Our Lady chose to appear over Coptic churches in Egypt, rather than Catholic churches elsewhere in the world has baffled some commentators, and can perhaps explain the lack of adequate devotion to these apparitions amongst Catholics.  It seems that many have failed to recognise the true significance of these apparitions lies above all in their timing and location. The Virgin Mary chose to appear over Coptic churches for two very simple reasons - firstly because she is re-tracing the steps of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt (and the vast majority of churches in Egypt are Coptic, especially those in locations associated with the sojourn of the Holy Family), and secondly, that despite not being in full communion with Rome, they show that Our Lady has deep love and respect for the Coptic Church, which like the rest of Oriental Orthodoxy, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church, offers a great devotion to her.
While some have recognised that Our Lady is in some way re-enacting the journey of the Holy Family during their flight into Egypt, none (to my knowledge) have went on to ponder the primary reason for their escape into the Egyptian wilderness and attempt to re-apply the same conditions to a modern context; or compare them with the account of Woman adorned with the Sun given in Rev 12 - which is basically the story of the nativity seen through an apocalyptic lens. 
The main and indeed only reason that the Holy Family fled into Egypt, was to escape from King Herod, who in an attempt to quash any potential Messianic usurpers to his throne, had ordered the massacre of any infants in the vicinity of Bethlehem under two years of age:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
(Matt 2:13-21)

If we compare the above passage in the Gospel of Matthew with the account of the Woman adorned with the Sun in Rev 12, we can see that this portion of the Book of Revelation is an apocalyptic version of the story of the nativity:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. (Rev 12:1-6)

This portion of the Apocalypse is recapitulated again after a brief interlude describing the "War in Heaven" between the archangel Michael and Satan, who is cast from the heavenly throne room to earth:

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea. (Rev 12:13-17)

The equation of the Woman adorned with the Sun with the Virgin Mary is a long standing tradition in the Catholic Church, as is attested by the various icons (such as Our Lady of Guadalupe) which depict her as arrayed with the radiance of the Sun, a crown of stars, and with a cresent moon at her feet. This asssociation has recently been re-affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI during his address honouring Our Lady at the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December 2011 (see here).

The Crescent Moon under the feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The "horns" of this crescent shape most likely represent Satan, who positions himself at Our Lady's feet in an attempt to devour her offspring. But ultimately Our Lady is the one who crushes the Serpent's head. The word Guadalupe is thought to be taken from the Aztec Nahuatl word Coatlaxopeuh (pronounced "quatlachupe") which means "the one who crushes the serpent".

The seven-headed dragon which positions itself at the woman's feet, ready to devour her child upon birth represents Herod's intentions to destroy the Child Jesus after his birth in Bethlehem. Herod's attempt to kill Our Lord at birth is also hinted at again later in the chapter, when the serpent pours out flood waters to sweep away the Woman and Child. To escape from this threat the Woman is given the "two wings of the great eagle" and escapes into the wilderness for a "time, times and half a time", or three and a half years - which according to Coptic tradition is exactly the length of time the Holy Family sojourned in Egypt. According to this tradition, after the Holy Family reached Assiut (the location of the apparitions in the year 2000), they turned back to re-trace their journey in the Egyptian wilderness, and when they reached Gabal Dranka (the location of the apparitons during the year 2001) Joseph recieved his dream telling them to go back to the land of Israel. This has led many commentators to suggest  that the year 2000 was the turning point of this re-enactment of the flight into Egypt, with the apparitions now making the homeward journey.

The backdrop of Egypt is doubly significant, as this is the location of the original "slaughter of the innocents" as recounted in the Book of Exodus, which acts as a precusor to Herod's massacre of the infants of Bethlehem:

 Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land...”

 ...Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” (Exod 1:8-10; 22)

And then again later in the Book of Exodus, we are told how the angel of death, or "Destroyer" as he is called in the original Hebrew (which recalls the Destroyer - "Apolloyon" or "Abaddon" of Rev 9), kills the Egyptian firstborn:

 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you...
(Exod 12:21-23)

 ...At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. (Exod 12:29-30)

It is also interesting to note that the Greek word used for "place" in Rev 12 - topos, is used elsewhere in the New Testament with the meaning of "temple" or "sanctuary". So the passage in Rev 12 could also be translated as "But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the temple where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time" - a translation which certainly evokes imagery of the apparitions of Our Lady of Light, which to date have almost exclusively occurred over church buildings.

So once we have determined that the primary reason for the the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt was the "slaughter of the innocents", we can see that this heavenly re-enactment of the nativity was to announce to the world that it was about to partake in a modern day "slaughter of the innocents". I will post a quote from my book Unveiling the Apocalypse on this subject below:

Just as the original flight of the Holy Family into Egypt was necessitated by an act of mass infanticide, these apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Egypt began to appear amidst the backdrop of what was the beginning of the greatest act of infanticide the world has ever known – the legalisation of abortion. The year in which the apparitions in Zeitoun first occurred was a pivotal moment in process behind the legalisation of abortion. The Abortion Act in the UK came into effect during April 1968, the same month the apparitions began to take place. This year also saw President Lyndon Johnson's Committee on The Status of Women publishing a report calling for a repeal of all abortion laws in the US. The implementation of the UK Abortion Act was the major turning point in international abortion law, and was soon to be followed by a host of other nations. By mid-1969 ten US states had loosened their abortion laws, including Colorado, North Carolina, California, Georgia, Maryland, Arkansas, Kansas, Delaware, Oregon and New Mexico. Abortion on demand was eventually established after the US Supreme Court deemed individual state bans on abortion to be unconstitutional following the Roe v Wade case in 1973.
In France, women seeking an abortion began to travel to the UK to have the procedure after the Abortion Act came into effect in 1968. The relative ease of travelling to the UK to procure an abortion would lead to France revising its own abortion laws, and abortion was finally legalised in France in 1975.
Therefore the appearances of the Virgin Mary in Egypt occurred at the exact moment the floodgates in abortion law had been opened. Was this a heavenly response to the blood of millions of innocents crying from the ground? (Unveiling the Apocalypse

Marian apparition often occur before periods of great upheaval. Perhaps most famously, Our Lady appeared at Fatima just before the rise of communist Russia - with the miracle of the Sun on the 13th October 1917 directly coinciding with the October Revolution which saw the Bolsheviks rise to power within a month. The other Church approved apparition at Beauraing and Banneux, in Belgium during the years 1932 and 1933 respectively appeared just before the rise to power of Hitler, who was made chancellor of Germany on 30th January 1933 - the same month when the first apparitions at Banneux occurred on the 15th. The apparitions at Kibeho, Rwanda, between 1981-1989 prophesied the Rwandian genocide, which was to claim the lives of an estimated 800,000 people in 1994, including one of the visionaries - Marie Claire. While the significance of the apparitions at Zeitoun are thought by some to be related to the Six Day War of 1967, it is much more likely to concern the legalisation of abortion, given the above background context. The fact that the Six Day War took place before these apparitions would also indicate that the Zeitoun apparitions were not related to this event, since all the other apparitions appeared before the events occurred. Our Lady first began to appear at Zeitoun on 2nd April 1968, and the UK Abortion Act was brought into effect just weeks later on 27th April.
Now that the apparitions of Our Lady of Light are in the process of making the return journey, we are left to reflect upon Matthew's quote of Hosea 11:1: "Out of Egypt I called my Son". During the season of Advent, the Church looks not only to the first coming of Christ, but it also focuses on His Second Coming. The birth-pangs of the Woman adorned with the Sun indicates that the Second Advent is near. Could these apparitions, which appear to be the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy of the Woman adorned with the Sun, signal that God is calling his Son out of Egypt to return to His earthly homeland?

See also the related posts:

Our Lady of Egypt
Our Lady of Assiut
The Woman Adorned with the Sun
The Fall of Satan
The Year of the Dragon
Signs in the Sky


Anonymous said...

It is interesting the comment about many in the Catholic Church remaining quiet over this apparition which is probably the greatest public miracle since the resurrection.

I have had the same experience when bringing this apparition up with Catholics, the common reaction is one of silence as opposed to vehement disagreement. In particular I attend a TLM parish in the local archdiocese, where I imagine many believe that most outside the visible Catholic Church will perish. My perception is this has probably been the most commonly held view by Catholics in history based on the limited reading I have done on the subject.

This apparition does seem to confirm a more ecumenical view (at least including our Orthodox brethren) of things, I would find it hard to believe that God would will the Blessed Mother to appear in such a manner if all Orthodox persons who die in that faith are to perish on the day of judgement, as it seems to indicate their faith is at least somewhat pleasing to God.

A taxi driver, one of the first people to view the apparition had his gangrenous thumb (due for amputation the next day) healed and was a Muslim.


Emmett O'Regan said...

Hi Jamey,

It is bewildering why these apparitions are not more widely known. As you say, it seems that the fact that they have been appearing over Coptic Churches is perhaps the greatest obstacle towards universal recognition. I think this has left many Catholics wondering why these apparitions (which as you correctly point out, are perhaps the greatest public miracles since the apostolic age) aren't occurring over Catholic Churches. The simple fact is that the location of these apparitions is the message in itself, and are of primary importance.
It is very difficult to maintain theodicy for a God who would be willing to damn millions of souls to eternal suffering in hell simply because they were born into the wrong religion - that's why there is an increasing gravitation in Catholic theology towards the possibility of "universal salvation" or "anonymous Christianity", as espoused in the post Vatican II era by Hans Urs Van Balthasar and Karl Rahner.
Personally I believe that punishment after death exists, but the extent of this suffering and whether it is eternal is open to debate. Whatever the case, God's justice is infinitely just, and we can trust in Him to recompense us for our works accordingly.
While I believe that the "fullness of grace" can only be found within the unity of the Catholic Church, I feel that the Orthodox Church too is a means of salvation, given its origins in apostolic succession, and with that comes a certain amount of grace. Especially given their reverence for Our Lady.
See The Catechism of the Catholic Church 819:

"Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."

Anonymous said...

Small point: The Coptic Church is not part of "Eastern Orthodoxy" but of "Oriental Orthodoxy".

Emmett O'Regan said...

Hi Anon,

You are quite right to point that out - I meant "eastern" orthodoxy with a lower case e, but can see that this causes confusion. I'll make the necessary amendation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting about the timing.

FYI abortion became legal in Canada thanks to Pierre Trudeau's "Omnibus Bill" that passed in the House of Commons on May 14, 1969.

However, 1968 saw the infamous "Winnipeg Statement" (September 27, 1968) wherein the Catholic hierarchy in Canada went all squishy over Humanae Vitae.

The 1960s were truly an evil time all over the planet.